We can hardly do Romans justice in the 5 weeks we have planned to cover it because this is simply the most comprehensive and rich description of Christian belief in the whole Bible. It’s the clearest A-Z compendium of the Fundamentals of our Faith. And there’s a good reason for that.
Of all the 13 letters of Paul that we have preserved in the New Testament, this is the only one where Paul is writing to a church he never planted or even visited. So Romans is missing the impassioned, paternal sternness of Galatians; it’s missing the warm familial tone of Philippians; it’s missing the specific addressing of specific problems of Corinthians. In fact, most scholars note a more regal, magisterial tone in Romans style, and Paul’s introduction of himself is remarkably more formal than other letters.
But we are the beneficiaries of all the ways Romans stands out! You see, because Paul doesn’t know this church personally, and because he doesn’t know anything other than there’s a mixed Church of Jews and Gentiles in the heart of the Empire, he decides to write them a comprehensive treatise on the good news of Jesus.
There are probably two reasons for this. One is to prepare for a visit he plans to make to Rome in the near future. Paul was always planning, always on the move. He had a strategic mind which he reveals in the intro, when he says he’s always, “…asking in my prayers that if it is somehow in God’s will, I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”
Two is that he wants them to see that he has the Jesus-message straight, and conversely, the letter is his help to them, to make sure they get it straight too. So without a bunch of inner church problems to deal with, Romans could address Christianity at the level of pure 101 and answer the question, what is the basic message of Jesus we hold out to the world? So this letter became Paul’s affirmative Case for Christ, and laid the intellectual foundations of a revolutionary new worldview built on His Gospel.
Because of that, Romans became so much more than a mere, A-Z of Christian belief. This letter has become monumental in the history of the church. F.F. Bruce (a prominent New Testament Scholar) said this about Romans:
“Time and Again, in Christian history, it has liberated the minds of [people], brought them back to an understanding of the essential Gospel of Christ, and started spiritual revolutions.”
This isn’t an exaggeration. The early period of Christianity was marked by the monumental writings of Augustine, whose conversion began by reading this book. The entire Protestant Reformation, which transformed Europe and realigned the Church with the freedom, the beauty and the wonder of its original message of Grace, began after a Roman Catholic monk named Luther read this book.
I can say I myself have had my Christian journey, and all subsequent ministry utterly formed by this book. The end of the 8th chapter has always seemed to me, a sort of climax of the entire Bible – the conclusive, eloquent stamp on everything Jesus came to bring us!
If you have never done so before, this series is a great time to dive into the meat of this Spirit-inspired treatise. Because this treatise will (re)introduce you to an idea that cannot help but change the life of everyone who grapples with it in faith. That idea? Grace.
-Written by Rick Thiessen